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Wild grapes are found all over the world but viniculture probably originated in Mesopotamia, spreading to temperate zones in the west and north with well-drained soil. Ancient Egyptians, Greeks and Romans all treasured the grapevine, experimenting with and developing skills for wine-making. Ancient burial sites, most famously the tomb of Tutankhamun, housed several amphorae labeled with vintage, variety and the vintner’s name—testimony to the high esteem of both product and the skill of the artisan.
The art, craft and science of wine-making has been in practice for millenia, from China, across Central Asia, southern Europe, Egypt and the Iberian peninsula. Osiris, Dionysus, Bacchus—all are deities associated with wine. Poets from Homer to Omar Khayyam have celebrated the drink; religions and mythologies have made it sacred; artists have portrayed the fruit in all its allure; healers have discovered and applied its medicinal powers to cure diseases; moralists have decried its influence.
Hippocrates (5th century B.C.) recognized the curative force of wine along with others long before and after him. They may not have known that grapes contained resveratrol, antioxidants or oligomeric proanthocyanosides, but they did use different parts of the grape—berries, skin, seed, sap, leaves and flowers, and wine—pale or dark, to treat a host of problems from eye and skin diseases to inflammation, nerve, cardiac and gastrointestinal disorders. The culinary delights from the grapevine are so varied and bountiful—dolmas from Middle Eastern and Greek cuisine, grapeseed oil, raisins with their versatility, grape juice as a sweetener, beverage or jelly.
These grapevines were selected in the autumn of 2006 from vineyards along the east shore of Cayuga Lake, one of the Finger Lakes system in New York State. Grape cultivation in the US began in the 1600s with the early colonists. Although the milder climes of California are most hospitable to the grape, varieties have been developed that thrive in the harsher winters of New York State which boasts many an award-winning wine. Is any celebration truly complete without uncorking a bottle?
artwork and text by milly acharya ©2007